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Bringing the Bronx to Brooklyn — and the World

Lillian Rodriguez Lopez ’79 has devoted her career to representing and supporting the Latinx community. She served as the president of the Hispanic Federation for 8 years and the chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda for three years, and has previously being recognized by People en Español as one of the “25 Most Powerful Hispanic Women” and as one of the “25 Most Influential Hispanics” in the U.S.

Lillian now works in the corporate sector, supporting government relations and communications for CC1 Companies, a Latinx-owned food and beverage company with varied enterprises across Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. She previously served as the director of Latin affairs for the Coca-Cola Company and as vice president of stakeholder relations. She currently serves on the boards of the Latino Community Fund Georgia and La Amistad, among others, and she co-chairs the Hispanic Advisory Council of the Nielsen Corporation. 

At the 2019 Reunion, Lillian was presented with the Alumni Award of Honor. At the ceremony, she described her path to Packer:

When I came here, I was a scholarship student with A Better Chance. I lived in the Bronx. My mother was an elementary school teacher. The day before I was going to start at Packer was the first time I saw the school. It was a Sunday and there was subway track work, so we had to take the bus and two trains to get there. We get in front of the school, this really impressive, beautiful brick building, and she looks at me — I'm 13 years old and going into the 10th Grade — and she says, "You are not coming here. This is too far." And I looked at my beloved mom and say, "Yes, I am!"

My entire experience at Packer was about resilience, opportunity, and experiences. The 70s were tough in the city, but I came to this school, and it was safe, caring, and compassionate like my home. But presented a whole new world for me. 

I remember singing in the Packer Chorus, and requiring my family to come and hear me at the concerts from the Bronx. I also did contemporary dance here. 

That's what Packer was about. It was about enrichment, it was about learning, it was about exploration, and I carried it all through my career and my life. What it means to take challenges. What it means to experiment and not allow yourself the 'no.' Challenging yourself to take it further, to take it to the next step. I would tell my colleagues and teams that I've led, “It’s not about perfection, but it is about striving for excellence and being the best person you can be.”

I’ve done a lot of work in diversity and inclusion, and I know a lot about inclusion at Packer. I want to say something to you: it wasn't always easy. Students would say to me, "What are you going to do for Spring Break? We’re going to Vermont” or “we’re going to Vail” or “we’re going to Italy." And I would say, “I will be in my house, reading books that I took out of the library.” But it was about learning about different ways of living and using that as aspiration, so that when I could travel, I did, because I knew it was something important that would enrich my family.

When I first came [to Packer] in the 70s, we had just come out of the civil rights movement. [White] students would sometimes tease us and say, "Oh, you people. You people always do that.” Vickie [(Victoria) Browne-]Moore ’79 said, "We need to do something.” Packer allowed us to be in this Chapel to do a skit called "You People" in front of the whole school. And when I think back on that, it shaped my voice.

[The skit] taught me the power of communication, but more importantly, the power of inclusion and the power of acceptance. And I've carried that throughout my life, when I ask myself, “how do we make people feel welcome, how do we create understanding, and how do we allow for each person to value their place in this society?” 

Thank you, Packer, for that enrichment of who I am, for allowing me to have such an amazing education, and for being one of the few institutions that I value so much in this city. Packer truly cares about students’ education, and also cares about diversity. I am a product of The Packer Collegiate Institute.

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